|by Mr Credit Card|
About while ago, John Chow posted an article The Ultimate Bling Bling – Black Centurion Card on his Make Money Online Blogwhere he posted a photo of his friends American Express Centurion Card. I got in touch with John Chow and he was kind enough to introduce me to his friend Tyler Dikman, the holder of the American Express Black Card and who currently is with Cooltronics. I got on the phone with Tyler and spent one and a half hours with him. He gave me all the details of the Centurion Card. I normally “review credit cards” in a certain format. However, I do not think that I can really call this a review because firstly, the details of this card is only available for those who have the card (with a special password to access American Express website). Secondly, given that I do not have the card, it is really hard to put a value judgement, especially when the annual fee is $2,500. But without wasting any more time (or space), let’s get down to the details of this card.
Firstly, we have to point out that like the American Express Green, Gold and Platinum Card, the Centurion’s Card reward program is based on the membership rewards program. But this card obviously comes with tons of extra perks. So here is the long list :
Gold Status for Delta, Continental and US Airways
Centurion cardholders qualify for Gold status for Delta Skymiles, Continental Onepass and US Airways Dividend Miles program automatically without having to fly the required miles or number of flights. Gold status brings its perks like check in at First Class counters, double miles when you fly, free upgrades.
New : Gold Elite Status with Virgin Atlantic Airways
Centurion has just announced that cardholders will now automatically qualify for Gold Status in the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club program. Being a Gold member allows you to earn 50% extra Virgin miles and other extra perks. Secondary cardholders also get this benefit.
Centurion Airport Lounge
Cardholders can also access Continental’s Presidents Lounge, Delta Crown Room Club and NorthWest Airlines World Club when you are flying on their airlines. You also get access to Priority Pass Lounges regardless of which airlines you fly. Priority Pass has over 450 airport lounges worldwide.
Elite Car Rental Program
Complimentary memberships are available to centurion holders for both Avis and Hertz.
Elite Hotel Status
The elite status available to centurion members has been the latest controvesy among cardholders. When the centurion card was first marketed, cardholders automatically qualified as Diamond (Elite) status for Hyatt, Gold Status (mid-tier) for Hilton HHonors program, Platinum status for Starwood Preferred Guest Program, and also elite status for Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts.
The perk that was coveted by centurion members was the Platinum Status of the Starwood Preferred Guest program. That was because Starwood has probably the best hotel frequent guest program with no blackout dates and suite upgrades for platinum members. Centurion cardholders often sited the room upgrades from Starwood Hotels essentially cover the cost of the card. Starwood also allows members to transfer points into airmiles at very favorable terms.
However, there has been some changes (or rather reduction) to the elite status perks that cardholders now get that has infuriated many centurion members. Firstly, Hyatt is no longer a partner with the centurion program. Hence, cardholders no longer get Gold status membership with Hyatt. But the most important changes are that from February 2007, centurion cardholders will no longer be automatically qualified for platinum status for the Starwood Preferred Gues Program. Instead, they now only qualify for gold status. Gold status can be easily gotten just by having a Starwood Preferred Guest credit card and just charging it in one calendar year. It is harder to get room upgrades and many centurion members are upset about this.
Fine Resorts and Hotel Program
Centurion has over 550 hotel partners around the world. When you make a reservations through centurion travel service, you will receive room upgrades at check-in when available, continental breakast for two, guaranteed 4pm late checkout and complimentary amenities depending on the hotel property.
But the most important perks under this program comes from the Mandarin Oriental and Ritz Carlton. When you book a room at the Ritz Carlton, you will get a room upgrade at the time of your reservations and you will also get a $50 spending credit. For any reservations at the Mandarin Oriental, you will get a room upgrade upon reservation and also another room upgrade at check-in (ie 2 upgrades). You will also receive from centurion a “Buy One Get One Free Night” coupon for each and every Mandarin Oriental Properties (except Mandarin NY). So, if you travel a lot and stay at the Mandarin Oriental, you will get a fantastic deal for each Mandarin Hotel that you stay in.
New : Relais & Chateaux Club 5C
Centurion has also just announced that cardholders can enroll in the Relais & Chateaux Club 5C program without fulfilling the standard spend and stay requirements. But firstly, what is Relais & Chateaux? It is an association of 460 independent luxury hotels and restaurants with an average capacity of 30 rooms in 51 countries in 5 continents. Their properties are known for their charm, exclusivity and great culnery experience. Relais Gourmands, which is a group within the association, consists of the world’s finest dining establishments.
The Club 5C is Relais & Chateaux royalty program. Its main benefits are the VIP Welcome and Discovery Privilege. The VIP Welcome is a special welcome from the staff of the property. The Discovery Privilege is a customize experience prepared for members during their stay. It includes thngs like a perfume customized specially for you, behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen, fine wine tasting, and sybaritic spa treatment.
Annual Travel Benefit
Centurion cardholders will get a $100 statement credit when they book a qualifying vacation package with Centurion Travel service. This benefit can also be combined with other centurion travel benefits like the Cruise Privileges Amenities and Centurion Destination Vacations. This benefit is also available to Platinum Cardholders.
Centurion Cruise Privileges and Centurion Destination Vacations
Cruise privileges simply mean you will get a $500 shipboard credit when you book a cruise through Centurion Travel service. You can also earn up to 50,000 membership reward points when you book a one-of-a-kind taylored vacation through centurion travel to one of their exclusive resorts.
If you book your travel tickets using your centurion card, you have up to $1,250 in baggage insurance for your carry-on luggage and $500 in checked-in luggage in addition to the insurance provided by the carrier. Tyler found this feature very helpful as he has had a few experience where he had a couple of damaged items on board a plane with his carry-on bags. American Express promptly reimbursed him the amount to replace his damaged items.
New : Domestic Companion Airfare Program
Both the Platinum and Centurion Card have just announced a new domestic companion airfare program. Under this program, you can get a free companion airfare when you use your centurion card to a ticket (which cost at least $299) on any of the big six carriers. You can request up to four complimentary tickets a year. You have to book through Airlines Promotion South Inc (API) and you have to meet a few restrictions. These include :
1. Ticket having to be roundtrips (multi-city, one-way and open jaw does not count)
2. 7 days advance booking
3. Saturday night or 2-night midweek stay.
4. A few fare restrictions and blackout dates
International Airline Program
This feature is actually also available to Platinum cardholders. This is how it works. For every full fare business or first class ticket that you purchase using the centurion card (using centurion travel service), you will get a free companion ticket. Tyler has not used this feature so far. On surface, it looks like a great benefit, but there are many occasions where 2 discounted business class tickets will cost cheaper than one full fare business class tickets. If you always book your tickets last minute and travel business class, you may find this a useful feature.
Centurion has partnered with a few very exclusive partners which enables cardholders to stay at the following exclusive places. They include the Four Seasons Residence Club, LaCURE, The Mansion at MGM Grand in Vegas (you cannot book at stay there even if you wanted to) and other Villas of distinction throughout the world.
Centurion has also partnered with many exlusive resorts in over 25 worldwide destinations. These can be booked through centurion travel service.
The Limousine Program
Booking a limousine through centurion travel service allows you to earn 3 membership reward points for every dollar that you spend on the service. The Limousine can be booked at 1-800-AXP-LIMO or through the centurion travel service.
International Communications Solutions
This program allows you to receive special pricing when you a GSM cellphone (GSM works in more international countries) and use phone plan from Vodafone (at reduced rates). You also get to rent a GSM phone for free is you use the centurion card for 60 days when you are going overseas. I don’t think this is a feature that will be used too often by cardholders though.
Private Jet Service
The Centurion program has partnered with six leading private jet companies. If you decide to enroll in any of them either through charter, membership or fractional use, you will get extra benefits when you enroll with the centurion card.
Space Adventure Spaceflight Club
Centurion members receive a complimentary membership with Space Adventures, the world’s premier space tourism company (according to Amex – and probably the only one!). This club is obviously for space enthusiasts, where you get private tours of launch facilities and other perks. Plus you get annual credits that you can use to pay for a suborbital flight!.
New : Tour GCX Membership
Tour GCX is a membership that provides individual and corporate members with unique access to private golf clubs and other golf experiences. They are able to provide this service because of marketing and business relationships with various prestigious private golf clubs.
Centurion cardholders who purchase the membership is allowed to reserve up to 5 tee times (foursomes) at select private golf clubs. The membership cost $3,125. Members also have special access to unique golf experiences like tournaments, pro-ams, clinics, outings and travel packages. Most of the courses are located at the New York Metropolitan areas like Long Island, New Jersey, Weschester County. Courses are also available at Florida, Las Vegas and D.C.
Centurion and Departure Magazines
Centurion members will get two magazines. The first is the Centurion magazine which is published four times a year. This is kinda like a Robb’s Report on the world of travel, food, wine, fashion and culture. You also get the Departure magazine, which is published seven times a year. Platinum Card members also get the Departure magazine, which is a magazine on luxury lifestyle.
Equinox Fitness Club
Centurion members who purchase a membership at the Equinox Fitness Club get a centurion preferred rate and receive a package of additional benefits like complimentary personal training sessions, spa treatments, guest passes, Kids’ Club certificates. Platinum members also get this benefit.
By Invitation Only, Destination Shopping, Premium Seats and Luxury Seats, Gold Card Events
As a centurion card member, you will be getting lots of mails and invitations to exclusive events. Firstly, there is an By Invitation Only which apparantly has access to exclusive once-in-a-lifetime events. In their brochure, amex mentions events like sports, performing arts, epicurean delights, business symposium with distinguish speakers, private vineyard tours during harvesting season! According to Tyler, an example would be a semi-private meal with chef Thomas Keller at Per Se in NYC (I believe it was $1300 per person), or VIP tickets to Sting and backstage passes to meet him (Tyler can’t remember the pricing).
Members will also get access to premium seats and luxury suites for sports, entertainment and live events at venues in Los Angeles and New York. You can also have access to the Platinum Lounge from Amex at the STAPLES Center in LA.
Centurion has also partnered with many high end retailers where you will receive unique in-store amenities and perks like personal shoppers, VIP rooms, exclusive in-store events, private viewings of collections, trunk shows and private sales. Partners include Bergdorf Goodman, Bulgari, Ermenegildo Zegna, Gucci, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
You will also get access to Gold Card Events where you will be given a chance to tickets to sports and entertainment events before tickets go on sale to the public. Amex Gold Card members already have this privilege and perk.
Personal Concierge Service, Dining Reservations, Centurion Travel Service
While the Platinum Card and other credit cards offer concierge service, the Centurion goes one step further by assigning you your own personal concierge. Tyler told me that all you have to do is to tell them what time are you most likely to call and Centurion will arrange for a concierge personel who works in the same time zone shift to be your personal concierge. That way, you will most likely to be speaking to the same person who will get to be familiar with your special requests, needs and querks! This is part of the package that Tyler likes the most because he says they are really good. For example, he mentions that on numerous occasions, he was able to get seats in very hard to get restaurants. They may not be the best seats, but at least, he got a table when normally there was no way that was going to happen. He also mentions another occasion where he had a show ticket in Vegas cancelled for no good reason, and conturion concierge managed to get him center seats on the eighth row!. On occasions where his personal concierge was not available, he did experience a couple of incidents where he felt the concierge personel could have done better, but these occasions (according to him) were rare.
Other Improved Features from Gold Card
The Centurion card also has features that are found in the regular gold card and even the Platinum Card. However, you get slightly better perks with the Centurion Card. For example, on the Buyers Assurance Plan, centurion cardholders get double the manufacturers warranty for up to five years. For the Gold and Platinum Card, the extention for warranty is only for one year.
On their purchase protection plan, centurion members are covered for any product that they purchase on their card for up to 90 days if they are lost, stolen or even damaged by accident or vandalism. You are covered up to $10,000 per occurance and up to $50,000 per year per cardholder account.
Their return policy is similar to the Platinum and Gold Card in that you can return an item you bought and if they retailer or manufacturer refuses to accept it, Amex will refund you for up to $300 per item. You have to return within 90 days. You are allowed to claim up to $1000 a year.
Is this worth $2,500?
Well, is this card worth the $2,500 annual fee. At first glance, I would say that if you made use of the business class companion ticket (if the price makes sense), if you stay regularly at either the Ritz Carlton or the Oriental Mandarin, I would say that airline flight and hotel room stay upgrades can easily cover the cost of the annual fee.
Tyler got this card when it was first launched the he has been grandfathered at the original annual fee of $1,000. He likes the card, the very good customer and concierge service that he gets. He thinks that Amex probably has the best customer service for any big company (you might get better service from your own personal concierge for example, but no big company comes close to beating American Express, in his opinion). Previously, when centurion cardholders were automatically platinum (or gold) members of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, Tyler said that room upgrades alone on that program more that paid for the annual fee.
How to Get the American Express Centurion Black Card?
So how do you get the American Express Centurion Black Card? Well, you can’t apply for one. It is by invitation only. Word has it that if you spend $250,000 a year on the card, a centurion card in a fancy box will be sent to you. For most folks, it is actually easier to get a Centurion Card if you charge your business expenses to your card. I would suggest that you either get the Gold or Platinum business charge card to test the waters first (so to speak).
Tyler just received a letter the other day that stated beginning in May of 2007, all charter members (including him) will receive a fee increase from $1000 primary/$500 secondary to $2500 primary/$1500 secondary per year. Any new members into the program will pay the $2500/$1500 rate + a $5000 initiation fee. Tyler hasn’t made up his mind yet, but he is leaning towards dropping the Centurion Card and moving back to the Platinum Credit Card.